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Time to heal wounds

Highlights

The problem in dealing with factionridden armed groups – this is true of Ahoms, Kamtapuris, Nagas, Manipuris and others – has been that if one faction signs a deal with the government, others move away and continue agitation

The problem in dealing with factionridden armed groups – this is true of Ahoms, Kamtapuris, Nagas, Manipuris and others – has been that if one faction signs a deal with the government, others move away and continue agitation

The latest round of violence in which 48 Adivasis in Assam have been killed is in retaliation to the ongoing Army-led counter-insurgency operations. They have been shot dead by the militants of Songbijit faction of National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) at five different locations across the state. Reports indicate that the Bodo militants suspect that the Adivasis have been acting as informants of the government. There is a strong reminder of the way students were massacred in a Peshawar school with the way the Bodos targeted the unarmed Adivasis and killed women and children in large numbers.

The tragic twist in the whole situation has come with the latest news that five Adivasis protesting against the killings by the Bodos have themselves been killed in police firing. Nothing can be worse than this. Our track record as a nation is dismal when it comes to the isolated northeastern region. Home to a myriad tribes, communities and cultures that date back to the ancient times, its people feel neglected and often get heard only after they engage in violence. New Delhi, unable to devise a coherent policy for nearly seven decades now, does the only thing it knows: treat violence there as a law and order issue and meet it with violence. Bodos are perhaps the earliest inhabitants of the Brahmaputra valley. They ruled the entire Assam once but after the invasion of the Ahoms, their strength declined.

Their demand for Bodoland is to safeguard their population in a region where oil has been struck and exploited and tea grown since the British era. But the Bodos have lagged behind in terms of education and jobs. Granted autonomy under the Bodo Territorial Council in 2003, the Bodos are not satisfied and want a homeland carved out of Assam. Feeding their aspirations was a move in February this year when the then Manmohan Singh Government, having belatedly carved out the Telangana State, reportedly wanted to carve out Bodoland as well. But nothing came of this move.

The problem in dealing with factionridden armed groups – this is true of Ahoms, Kamtapuris, Nagas, Manipuris and others – has been that if one faction signs a deal with the government, others move away and continue agitation. Helping their cause is supply of arms from outside, through porous borders with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal. The Bodo-inhabited region has seen over 588 kidnappings in three years. As many as 437 people have received extortion notes, mainly from the NDFB (Songbijit). The situation has been grim and the Army has had to be called out. Whatever the fairness and legitimacy of the Bodos’ demand, its handling has been poor and in this, the Assam government’s role is significant. It would be fair to expect Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, having overseen Assembly elections in militancy-hit Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalismhit Jharkhand, should rush to Kokrojhar and help restore a semblance of governance.

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